Business & Technology

If you can't trust your toaster, who can you trust?

Underwriters Laboratories launches eco-branch

You've seen it on your toaster, probably, and on your hair dryer too: The little circle with "UL" inside. That means the good folks at Underwriters Laboratories have certified that the product meets health and safety regulations. And now UL is launching an arm called UL Environment that will verify green claims. This is the equivalent of, say, Julia Child offering to taste test your meatloaf: good news. Well, better news if she were still alive. But you see what I'm getting at.

Green Light: Greetings, master Toyota

Toyota becomes world's biggest automaker, Prius goes solar, and other green auto news

Toyota this week officially overtook the ailing General Motors to become the world's largest automaker. Both companies saw sales declines in 2008, but Toyota's 8.97 million vehicles sold bested its U.S. rival by about 620,000. GM was the globe's undisputed auto-king for 77 years. The 2010 Prius' solar roof. Photo courtesy of Toyota. Sales of Toyota's hybrid models dropped by 45 percent in December 2008, but the carmaker might win customers back with the 2010 Prius, which boasts 50+ mpg fuel efficiency, rooftop solar panels, three different drive modes to minimize fuel consumption, and LED headlights. Meanwhile, Toyota announced Tuesday that it would launch a Certified Used Hybrid program. In other auto news ... • Fiat agreed to take a 35 percent stake in Chrysler, which prompted speculation from media types that small, full-efficient, Italian-leathered, pentastar-bedecked coupes would be heading our way soon.

Will Fiat help Chrysler go green?

With Fiat's technology, Chrysler will build more small and midsize cars

Some commenters suggested my earlier post, "Chrysler to electrify entire product line," should have been filed under "humor." How was the company going to survive the current collapse of the auto industry, let alone find the money to invest in green cars? But now the NYT reports: The Italian automaker Fiat agreed on Tuesday to take a 35 percent stake in the struggling American auto company Chrysler, which was forced last month to seek a federal bailout amid fears it might not survive. And, as the article notes, this creates a real eco-opportunity for Chrysler:

Umbra on gift cards

Dear Umbra, I received a gift card this holiday season from a friend to a company which I generally avoid due to its subpar eco-practices. …

Illinois embarrasses itself again

Legislature approves 'Clean Coal Portfolio Standards,' green-lights new coal plant

OK, we've got Obama in the plus column for the state of Illinois. But in addition to the gubernatorial craziness going on in my home state, we've now got this: Tenaska, an independent power company, has been seeking to build a coal plant in Illinois. The problem being of course, that new, coal-fired power plants are really, really, really, really lousy investments. Tenaska tried to change government rules to ensure they made money. That in and of itself isn't inherently bad. Every company has a vested interest in tweaking laws to benefit their shareholders. But to ask is nobler than to receive. I wouldn't be a bad person if I asked the state to give me $1 million a year to support my crack habit, but if the state gave me that money and I accepted, we would both be complicit. So how did the Illinois legislature respond? "Clean Coal Portfolio Standards." Seriously.

Links to enviro news and more

USCAP in context

How the cap-and-trade blueprint fits into domestic and international climate action

There's been a lot of buzz lately about the U.S. Climate Action Partnership and its new blueprint for a cap on global warming pollution. Last week, the diverse group of environmental nonprofits and leading companies from every sector of the U.S. economy unveiled a detailed plan for legislation -- the consensus product of two years of intense analysis and debate. As a consensus document, it won't satisfy everyone's design for the perfect climate bill. Instead, it bridges the gap on the most important issues in the legislative debate, giving members of Congress clear guidelines for legislation that are environmentally effective, economically smart, and politically achievable. It's an attempt to find the "sweet spot" that can move the U.S. forward on climate change, in real, practical terms, toward a strong domestic emissions cap that reduces pollution at home and enables the U.S. to lead an effective global emissions reduction effort. Any U.S. climate proposal needs to be examined in that context. After all, even the strongest U.S. legislation alone won't secure enough global emissions reductions to solve climate change. What we need right now is strong domestic action that drives international action and contributes effectively to a global emissions reduction path that can avert the worst impacts of climate change. The two-degree threshold Scientific experts say that our emissions path must keep global warming within 2° of pre-industrial levels. Beyond that, the chances of catastrophic climate impacts increase dramatically. Would the USCAP blueprint as a whole contribute effectively to the global emissions reductions we need? The chart below shows that it would.

Green Light: Electric shock

Automakers parade EVs in Detroit, Ontario Betters itself, and more green auto news

• Detroit: It's still around, and as long as the feds continue to give transit short-shrift, we'll be driving and bailing for years to come. But in honor of our societal shift toward fuel efficiency, the automakers have some brand new electric vehicles and hybrids they have been showing off this week at the North American International Auto Show, Jan. 11-25. From the third-generation Prius to the Dodge Circuit to the Mini E, talk of fuel efficiency and battery-life replaced praise for horsepower and chrome. Thank goodness for the 505-horsepower Revenge GTM-R or we might confuse ourselves and our cars with those subdued European models. While electric vehicles stole the auto show, Toyota's executive vice president, Masatami Takimoto, said in an interview with the New York Times that Toyota would produce a hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle by 2015. GM's lead engineer on the Volt also thinks Hydrogen is the fuel of the future -- I guess he hasn't read Joseph Romm's opinions on the matter. GM's Larry Burns, vice president of research and development and strategic planning, thinks Toyota has a lock on hybrids and that the Americans need to "change the game," but he didn't specify if that meant a focus on hydrogen. From Jan. 17-25, NAIAS will be open to the public. If you live in Detroit, don't miss these 10 vehicles of interest, as advised by Mark Phelan of the Detroit Free Press, and when else will you take an i-Miev for an EcoExperience 10-mph test-drive a la Michigan Economic Development Corporation? (Side note: Jalopnik nearly ran into the Sen. Bob "I'm against the bailout plan" Corker (R-Tenn.) in their little electric mobile command center. You can -- hee hee -- watch the video here.) In other news ... • Like Israel, Denmark, Australia, California, and Hawaii before it, the city of Ontario, Canada, will now be a Better Place. • Ferrari is now offering research grants for automotive technology that reduces vehicle weight and CO2 emissions.

Who's killing the plug-in hybrid?

This East Bay Express story is a must-read article. The same folks who decided the hydrogen highway was the road to the future now very well might kill the plug-in hybrid conversion industry. I'd say we should send them a copy of Who Killed the Electric Car?, but chances are they only have Betamax.